In the first debate Mitt Romney did everything that he had to do. His most important accomplishment was in coming across as both likeable and presidential. He opened with a joke about President Obama's anniversary which got a smile from Obama. When the moderator tried to cut him off, he replied "Fun isn't it?" and kept going. For most of the country (including me), this was the most exposure they have had to Romney. Romney was a completely different person from the one portrayed in Obama's attack ads and the contrast will help him.
Romney also got to challenge some of the claims that have been the heart of the Obama campaign, especially the one that he plans on raising taxes on the middle class. Obama kept saying it and Romney kept correcting him.
Obama seemed unprepared and peevish. When Obama spoke Romney watched politely with a half-smile on his face. When Romney spoke, Obama looked down or simply glared out at the audience. This was probably the first time in years that someone has called Obama a liar to his face (even if he was telling a lie). The President did not care for the experience.
The contrast between the two men was notable. It goes beyond Romney being better prepared. He has a clearer understanding of the issues. Without that, Obama was forced to repeat talking points.
Many people have questioned why Obama didn't bring up Bain or the 47%. This was probably a good move on Obama's part. Romney will have well-rehearsed answers to both, especially Bain. Obama has been misrepresenting what Bain does for months. The last thing he needs to do is to give Romney an excuse to refute another lie.
Obama probably did himself no favors by using John Kerry as his stand-in for Romney during practice. The thinking was that one stiff politician from Massachusetts is just like another but Romney is much more animated and forceful than Kerry. Romney not only dominated the debate, at times he seemed to be moderating it, also.
It will be days before we know how much the debate helped Romney. In the short-term, it inspired my wife to make a small donation to Romney and a liberal that we know decided that his previous donations to Obama were wasted money. In general, Republicans are energized and Democrats are demoralized.
There are still two debates to go. Obama could rally but the odds are against him. Regardless of how well prepared he is, he has to run on his record and he has few successes to justify reelection.